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SpaceX wins contract to launch first pieces of NASA's Gateway lunar outpost – Spaceflight Now – Spaceflight Now



File photo of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch in April 2019. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

NASA announced Tuesday it has awarded SpaceX a $331 million contract to launch the first two pieces of the Gateway lunar outpost in 2024 using a modified version of the Falcon Heavy rocket to hurl the massive core of the deep space station toward the moon.

The Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost will launch in tandem no earlier than May 2024 aboard the Falcon Heavy rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The $331.8 million launch services contract, awarded by NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy, includes the Falcon Heavy launch and “other mission-related costs,” the agency said in a statement. The $331 million contract value is nearly three times the price NASA is paying for a Falcon Heavy launch in July 2022 with the Psyche asteroid probe.

The PPE and the HALO modules are the first two pieces of the Gateway mini-space station, which NASA envisions will serve as a waypoint for astronauts in transit to and from the moon’s surface in the space agency’s Artemis lunar exploration program. Contributions from international partners, such as a joint European-Japanese habitation module and a Canadian robotic arm, will eventually join the Gateway in orbit around the moon, forming an outpost about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station.

The Power and Propulsion Element, built by Maxar, will be powered by large solar array wings, and will use plasma rocket jets for deep space maneuvers. It will also provide communications and attitude control for the Gateway complex. The HALO, developed by Northrop Grumman in partnership with Thales Alenia Space in Italy, will provide the initial living quarters for astronauts on the Gateway, and will have docking ports for arriving and departing cargo and crew ships.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket will haul the PPE and HALO into a high-altitude orbit around Earth. The PPE’s solar-electric thrusters will guide the stack toward the moon, where the Gateway will enter an elliptical lunar orbit to take position for the docking of Orion crew capsules with astronauts. NASA intends for human-rated lunar landers to also link up with the Gateway in orbit around the moon, and the landing craft could be refueled at the Gateway for multiple trips to and from the lunar surface.

The combined function of the HALO and Orion life support systems will sustain up to four astronauts for up to 30 days on the Gateway, according to NASA.

The Trump administration set a 2024 schedule goal for the first astronauts to return to the moon’s surface in NASA’s Artemis program. The Biden White House has said it supports the Artemis program, although the new administration has not said whether it will stick with the 2024 schedule, which was already facing stiff technical and funding headwinds before President Trump left office.

NASA decided last year to launch the PPE and HALO elements on the same rocket. The decision reversed NASA’s previous Gateway acquisition strategy, which would have launched the two elements on separate rockets before they automatically docked in deep space.

Artist’s illustration of the Gateway’s PPE and HALO modules in lunar orbit. Credit: NASA

The tandem launch of the PPE and HALO sections requires a rocket with an extended payload shroud. The payload fairing currently flying on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is not long enough for the job, but SpaceX plans to introduce an extended fairing for future U.S. national security satellites, along with a new vertical integration hangar at pad 39A to enable the attachment of military payloads in a vertical orientation at the launch site.

The new fairing design and launch pad integration tower are part of a Pentagon launch services agreement SpaceX won last year. ULA won a similar Defense Department launch contract, and the two companies will share national security launch duties through 2027.

The fairing and integration building are required for SpaceX to be able to launch all of the military’s space missions, and the enlarged shroud is also an enabler for the Falcon Heavy to launch the Gateway.

SpaceX is on contract for other parts of NASA’s Artemis architecture.

The company’s Dragon XL cargo vehicle will deliver supplies to the Gateway space station. The Dragon XL missions will also launch on Falcon Heavy rockets.

A version of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship vehicle, which engineers are designing as a fully reusable rocket, could be used as a lunar lander to transport crews to and from the lunar surface. SpaceX is competing against teams led by Blue Origin and Dynetics for the full lunar lander development contract.

NASA plans to launch astronauts from Earth aboard Orion capsules flying on top of the government-owned Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket.

SpaceX has launched three Falcon Heavy rocket missions to date, all successfully, and the company has at least two more scheduled this year. With the Gateway launch contract, SpaceX has seven confirmed Falcon Heavy missions in its backlog, including two U.S. Space Force missions this year, launches of a Viasat broadband communications satellite and NASA’s Psyche asteroid explorer in 2022, and two Dragon XL cargo missions to the Gateway.

The Falcon Heavy is made up of three modified Falcon 9 first stage boosters connected together in a triple-core configuration. The rocket’s 27 Merlin main engines produce some 5.1 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, more than any other currently operational rocket.

NASA’s inspector general reported in November that the agency has spent more than $500 million on Gateway design work to date.

Despite the decision to combine the PPE and HALO onto a single launch, which NASA said would save money and simplify development, the launch of the Gateway’s power element has been delayed from December 2022 to May 2024.

“The development schedules for both the PPE and HALO have been negatively impacted by the agency’s still-evolving Gateway requirements, including NASA’s decision to co-manifest and launch the two elements on the same commercial rocket rather than separately as initially intended,” the inspector general said last year.”

The Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element and HALO habitation module will now launch together inside an extended payload fairing. Credit: NASA

The inspector general also cited the Trump administration’s 2024 schedule goal for returning astronauts to the moon, although NASA was not counting on using the Gateway for the first Artemis lunar landing mission, at least as proposed in the previous administration.

“Compounding these issues is the 2024 lunar mandate that drove the accelerated development schedule in the first place and resulted in a lack of schedule margin in the Gateway program,” the inspector general said.

NASA’s choice to co-manifest the PPE and HALO will add 10 months to the modules’ travel time to their operating post in a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon, the inspector general said.

“The decision to launch the PPE and HALO together, while avoiding the cost of a second commercial launch vehicle, has contributed to cost increases due to the redesign of several components, an elevated launch risk, and a longer duration flight to lunar orbit,” the inspector general said.

Under the original Gateway launch strategy, Maxar was responsible for booking the launch for the Power and Propulsion Element. Maxar had already contracted SpaceX for the solo launch of the PPE, an agreement that the inspector general said was terminated in favor of the combined launch of the PPE and the HALO, which came with additional requirements, such as the Falcon Heavy with the extended fairing.

Maxar had already paid SpaceX $27.5 million in payments for the PPE launch contract before terminating the agreement, the inspector general said.

“In our judgment, NASA’s acceleration of the acquisition for both the PPE and HALO before fully defining the Gateway’s requirements added significant costs to the projects’ development efforts and increases the risk of future schedule delays and additional cost increases,” the inspector general said.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Cochrane company making Virtual Reality for astronauts – CTV Toronto



Stardust Technologies is on a mission to take virtual reality where it’s never been before.

The Cochrane-based tech company is researching how simulating Earth-bound activities can help improve astronauts’ mental health while on board the International Space Station (ISS) — and eventually during long-distance space travel.

“It’s a very important thing that astronauts feel like they are on Earth,” said the company’s chief technology office, Jawad El Houssine.

“VR technology will be very, very useful for this.”

Testing VR zero gravity

The team is the first to use Facebook’s Oculus Quest VR headset in this way and is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency and the National Research Council of Canada to test out how to make it work outside of Earth — since the technology was first created to work with this planet’s gravity.

Shy of going to space themselves to research this, Stardust has been conducting test flights in Ottawa, using an airplane that can mimic gravity in space, on the moon and on Mars.

“We succeeded to make the Oculus Quest work 100 per cent in zero gravity,” Jawad said, after conducting only a couple test flights so far.

Simulating Earth… in space

This is part of what the company calls ‘Project EDEN,’ with the goal being to create a fully-simulated Earth experience in space — using a combination of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and a haptic feedback suit that can simulate sensations like wind, rain and touch.

The company’s CEO, Jason Michaud, said the project is intended to help astronauts with feelings of homesickness, loneliness, isolation, and stress. He compares it to feelings many people on Earth have been experiencing during the pandemic.

“Our EDEN project is going to be targeted at doing simulations where you’ll be able to play, let’s say golf in microgravity, for the astronauts,” Michaud said.

“If you like, you could play hockey, do some meditation with other people on Earth that could be, potentially, with the astronauts while they’re on the International Space Station.”

(Out-of-this) world of possibilities

Michaud has high ambitions for the project. He sees it being used on the moon, when NASA builds its lunar base planned for 2024 — and even on an eventual human mission to Mars.

The need for engaging entertainment on long voyages is not a new concept for humanity, said El Houssine, thinking all the way back to the 15th century, when Spaniards would play games and sing songs on their voyage to the New World.

It stands to reason that people will need more advanced and immersive entertainment as we travel through space, he said. And so the work continues to make sure ‘Project EDEN’ will be ready for work on the ISS and future space voyages.

“We are hoping to be able to (have an astronaut) test that next year on the International Space Station directly,” said Michaud.

Though many more microgravity test flights are needed to get to that point, he said.

‘I believe you can achieve anything’

As for researching the technology’s ability to help with mental health, particularly isolation, Michaud said he is planning to send El Houssine on his own journey to test the technology alone — in Antarctica.

Reflecting on the progress of ‘Project EDEN’ and his company — which also services the mining and medicine industries — Michaud credits it to his upbringing in northern Ontario.

He hopes to inspire young people in the region with the possibilities of technology — and hopes more entrepreneurs arise in the region.

“As long as you have the drive for it and the community to support you, I believe you can achieve anything.”

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COVID-19 outbreak that infected 133, killed 31 at New West care home has ended, Fraser Health says – CTV News Vancouver



One of B.C.’s largest care home outbreaks of COVID-19 is now officially over.

The outbreak at Royal City Manor, a long-term care home in New Westminster, began on Jan. 3 and quickly grew to include dozens of residents and staff members.

As of March 3, the outbreak was responsible for 133 cases of the coronavirus. A total of 102 residents were infected, and 31 died, according to data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

On Sunday night, Fraser Health announced in a news release that the outbreak had been declared over.

“With the implementation of comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to COVID-19 in care facilities, there are no longer any COVID-19 cases at this location,” the health authority said in its release.

The end of the Royal City Manor outbreak means there are no longer any active outbreaks involving more than 100 cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in B.C.

The largest ongoing outbreak in a long-term care home in the province is now the one at Acropolis Manor in Prince Rupert, where 57 people had tested positive and 14 residents had died, as of the latest BCCDC update.

Health officials have attributed the decline in the number and severity of outbreaks in care homes in the province in recent months to the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccines in the system. As of mid-February, some 91 per cent of residents in long-term care had received at least one dose of a vaccine.  

Outbreaks in hospitals, meanwhile, have not noticeably declined in frequency in 2021.

On Saturday, an outbreak was declared at Kelowna General Hospital, where a separate, unrelated outbreak was already ongoing in a different unit. 

On Sunday, Interior Health announced that the earlier outbreak, in unit 4B, had ended. A total of seven people – six patients and one staff member – tested positive for COVID-19 in association with that outbreak. Two of the patients died.

“I would like to thank the team at KGH for their efforts in containing this outbreak and preventing further spread throughout the hospital,” said Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown in a news release Sunday.

“We send our condolences to the families of the two patients who passed away and will work equally as hard to contain the second outbreak declared on March 6,” Brown added. 

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Ontario universities eye opening up campuses this fall –



Ontario universities are eyeing on-campus classes and activities this fall — or possibly even sooner — as the province’s vaccination rollout ramps up.

“We expect to return to face-to-face instruction, and more of the on-campus experiences we all love, this coming September,” Western University President Alan Shepard said in a written release. “We know this question has been top of mind for our current students and for new students considering Western.”

And, he added, “as vaccines become more readily available over the spring and summer and as the Western community continues to remain vigilant both on and off campus, we’re increasingly confident of these plans.”

The province-wide lockdown last March sent post-secondary students home from campus, with almost all — except for those requiring hands-on labs for things like health studies — learning remotely this school year. While residences opened to first-year students last September, they did so at a much lower capacity than normal.

Schools now say they hope to have a clearer picture to give their students before the end of the winter term, at the end of April.

The University of Guelph is planning for a “safe gradual return to face-to-face learning for the fall 2021 semester” — or even earlier.

“We anticipate that this spring we will begin welcoming increased numbers of faculty and staff back to our campuses and facilities, following strict health and safety protocols and public health guidelines,” said Interim President Charlotte Yates in a written release to faculty and staff.

“This gradual return will help us ensure we can provide a safe environment for everyone.”

At Waterloo University, Media Relations Manager Rebecca Elming said it is looking to get back to normal as soon as it is safe, though specifics are still in the works.

“We have been and will continue to work with health officials and all levels of government to make the transition back to in-person campus operations safe for students, staff and faculty,” she said.

Queen’s University is “cautiously optimistic” that by the winter term — which starts in January 2022 — campus life will be back to what it was pre-pandemic.

However, for September, it is considering a hybrid model.

“We will still be living with COVID-19 in the fall, so flexible options may still be required as appropriate,” but “as part of society’s hope to be back to some degree of normalcy by fall, we are planning that many small classes, labs, and tutorials will be offered in-person, with appropriate safety protocols in place,” said Mark Green, provost and academic vice-principal, in a written release, acknowledging “this past year has been challenging.”

However, “if restrictions remain in place throughout the fall, such as physical distancing measures and class size limitations, we expect most large classes may need to be delivered remotely.”

Ryerson University says it is “actively planning for a number of scenarios in advance of the 2021-22 academic year, but no final decision has been made” as yet.

“We will not ask anyone to come to campus until government and public health agencies have told us that it’s safe to open and that the safety and well-being of our community can be assured,” the school said in a statement.



“This will likely mean a gradual return — prioritizing areas that would most benefit from in-person interaction. Our goal is to inform our community 90 days prior to the beginning of the fall semester to give time for students to plan to attend campus and for faculty to plan course delivery.”

The University of Toronto said it is “looking forward, with optimism, to fall 2021 when people can once more gather on our campuses, as permitted by public health guidelines … By September, we aim to support students, faculty, staff and librarians to return to campus, while also preserving some of the best innovations of the past year in terms of technology and flexible work arrangements.”

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